Interview: People-to-people exchanges foundation of Xi's foreign policy, says China expert

(Xinhua) 10:35, July 06, 2023

NEW YORK, July 5 (Xinhua) -- People-to-people exchanges, which lie at the heart of Chinese President Xi Jinping's foreign policy, are crucial for countries to cultivate mutual understanding and appreciation, a U.S. expert on China has said.

"People-to-people exchanges have always been a foundation of President Xi Jinping's foreign policy, from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to China-U.S. relations," Robert Lawrence Kuhn, chairman of the Kuhn Foundation, recently told Xinhua, based on his "first-hand witness of Xi's philosophies going back 17-18 years."

Such exchanges are "the foundation of how independent countries with independent interests can best build common understanding and mutual appreciation," he continued.

"These two highly symbolic events resonated with me," said Kuhn, talking about Xi's recent meeting with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and the president's congratulatory letter to the event titled "Bond with Kuliang: 2023 China-U.S. People-to-People Friendship Forum."

Xi had a personal, friendly meeting with Gates, where he referenced "people" as the foundation of China-U.S. relations, Kuhn said, adding that in the letter to the forum on Kuliang, Xi stated that "amity between peoples holds the key to the relationship between countries."

"When Xi placed China's hope on the American people and wished all the best for the friendship between the two peoples, it triggered memories of five occasions related to Xi and people-to-people exchanges, three of which were when I interacted with him personally," Kuhn recalled.

The first, in 2006, was when Xi was secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Zhejiang Provincial Committee. "Early in the year, Xi and I met privately in Hangzhou, and although the focus was on Zhejiang's development, it was clear how much Xi valued people-to-people exchanges in aiding that development," he said.

Later in the same year, Kuhn, along with his long-time partner, Adam Zhu, was asked to advise on and help to coordinate public relations for "Zhejiang Week" in New Jersey, Zhejiang's sister U.S. state.

"Xi of course led the delegation and his speech stressed the importance of the peoples of Zhejiang and New Jersey working together at all levels and in all sectors, from business and the arts to science and healthcare. U.S. media, including Bloomberg, gave quite positive coverage," said Kuhn.

The second was Xi's five-day tour to the United States in early 2012 as vice president of China. Stopping in Los Angeles, Xi held a luncheon for over 100 leaders in entertainment, business and government, Kuhn said, adding that much of his speech stressed the importance of people-to-people connections between Chinese and Americans, which he reinforced by attending a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game.

"The third, in 2015, in preparation for President Xi's state visit to the United States, I was asked to travel to speak at a ceremony to dedicate the Sino-U.S. Friendship House in Muscatine, Iowa," said Kuhn.

The house has come to symbolize the desire of common people for closer ties between China and the United States, because in 1985, Xi, then a young local official, stayed in the same house as part of a delegation visiting Iowa to learn agricultural techniques, Kuhn said. "Xi had included a return visit to Muscatine, meeting with old friends, on his 2012 U.S. visit. We call it the 'Muscatine Spirit.'"

The fourth, in the middle years of the last decade, was when Kuhn was first following the rapid developments in the BRI.

"I noted in the media that although the BRI was about large infrastructure and industrial connectivity, Xi included in BRI objectives people-to-people connectivity. This exemplified, I said at the time, that Xi sees people as foundational, infrastructure as instrumentational," said Kuhn.

The fifth, in December 2018, at the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up, was when Kuhn was among the 10 foreigners to receive the China Reform Friendship Medal.

"After awarding me the medal, President Xi said that facilitating China's communications with the world is essential, so that foreigners can come to know the real China. The media and people-to-people exchanges are the two vehicles to make this happen, Xi always stressing the latter," said Kuhn.

"People-to-people exchanges are powerful instruments for international understanding and cooperation. All should support President Xi's vision," said Kuhn. 

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Liang Jun)


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